Keeping historic buildings safe from fire

Posted on 25. Apr, 2012 by

Downtown building owner Martin Woodruff installed a sprinkler system during the remodeling of 106 N. Trinity St., as required by the city, in preparation to open Reunion on the Square.

We’ve got what I think is a very interesting story in today’s Messenger about sprinkler systems in the buildings around Decatur’s Square. Of course, all of the buildings were constructed long before modern fire codes were put in place. Three buildings have recently been retrofitted with sprinkler systems, but many still remain without this important piece of fire protection.

The problem is, if a large fire does break out in one building, it will sweep right on down the block until it reaches a street. I know because I’ve seen it happen in my own hometown.

I was in my first year of college when I saw my hometown of Itasca on the local television news. Camera crews were capturing all the devastation. A fire had broken out in an old hardware store on the corner of the main intersection in town. The blaze spread to the other buildings to the west, and the fire didn’t stop until it hit the alley. Even then, fire damaged nearby buildings due to the intense heat.

The town has done its best to move forward. A smaller, more modern building was built on part of the block, and a veterans memorial park was placed on the corner.

But it’s not the same. The history can never be replaced.

Installing sprinkler systems in these old buildings will take a good amount of monetary investment, but there is no doubt that if a fire broke out in one of these buildings, having a sprinkler system could mean the difference between repairs and razing.

Wise County Fire Marshal Marc Dodd recently did a presentation showing what happens to two identical rooms that catch fire: one fitted with a sprinkler system and one without. Messenger photographer/videographer Joe Duty was there to capture video showing just how much devastation could be saved from sprinkler systems.

We had a few people weigh in on the topic of should the buildings around the Square be retrofitted with sprinkler systems in this week’s Square Talk. I’m interested to know what our blog readers think.

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